Forged irons, the peak of premium quality irons favoured by good golfers around the world.
A forged iron is traditionally one that is made from a singular piece of steel. Opposed to a game-improvement cavity back iron which usually blends steel with other composite materials.
Forged irons offer a unique soft feel with improved control of ball flight and spin, but with a smaller sweet spot and more compact head. This is why they are usually the choice of world's top golfers, who prioritise control over forgiveness.
However with technology improving forged irons are becoming more popular for mid-range handicappers. Improved weight distribution, hollow forged designs and now even chromoly steel have meant that forged irons are not as difficult to hit as they once were.
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1. Callaway Apex 21
Forgiveness: 95 | Distance: 95 | Look: 85 | Feel: 75
Perfect for a golfer new to forged irons
Apex forged irons have always held a reputation as one of the best on the market since their first release. The newest Apex range offers more variety than previously, with five different models; MB, Apex Pro, Apex 21, DCB and TCB.
The most popular model is likely to be the standard Apex 21 irons, because they will appeal to a range of handicaps. Apex were the first range of irons that expanded the forged market into mid-range handicappers and you can see why in the latest model.
They carry superior forgiveness for off-centre strikes, dropping less yardage than any alternatives on this list. Boasting the usual impressive distance you expect from Apex irons, but with slightly more distance control and consistency than previous models.
Apex 21 includes AI flash face technology and also comes with a whopping 64g of tungsten split into three different areas of the face. This is all designed to create higher ball speeds, improved spin control and add forgiveness.
2. Callaway Apex 21 Pro
Forgiveness: 85 | Distance: 85 Look: 95 | Feel: 90
Best all-rounder for low handicappers
The Apex Pro irons will appeal to lower handicappers, with a more traditional compact players’ head and almost blade type appearance.
The Pro model is a hollow body construction, including up to an enormous 90g of tungsten. It also includes AI flash face technology, as per the Apex 21 model. The Pro model has improved feel and distance control compared to the Apex 21 and retains much of the forgiveness. The only downside is you will sacrifice a bit of distance.
All of the irons in the Apex range are attractive, with even the most forgiving model (DCB) keeping a fairly slim players’ distance style iron. The topline and face sizes do get slightly bigger as you go through the models, but lower handicappers will still enjoy the look of each model. The Apex range has very good options available for golfers wanting a mixed set.
3. Titleist T100
Forgiveness: 80 | Distance: 75 | Look: 90 | Feel: 100
For good ball strikers wanting maximum control
Even if not directly linked by Titleist, these irons were a follow-up from the 718 AP2 model. Titleist has a history of having the most popular iron on the PGA Tour and the T100 irons offer the same Tour-proven performance.
Although definitely targeted at good ball-strikers, these irons are more forgiving than past Titleist players irons. They have an enhanced sole camber redesign to aid slightly heavy shots and a thinner co-forged face has added slightly more forgiveness to off-centre strikes.
The T100 irons offer expert levels of ball flight control, unmatched by any other cavity back iron. Golfers that love maneuvering their shot shape and height will adore these irons. The lofts are weaker than some alternatives, meaning distance is not as impressive. But given the target market for these irons is lower handicappers, that should not concern too many.
They have a compact iron profile favoured by Pros, but with a thinner topline than previous models. These irons look so close to blades, definitely targeted towards low handicap golfers. They have the classy look you expect from Titleist irons, nothing new, simply very good looking irons.
4. Srixon ZX7
Forgiveness: 85 | Distance: 90 | Look: 90 | Feel: 90
An amazing all-round performer for good golfers
Srixon has been producing top quality forged irons for a number of years. Sadly they have’t seem to have the marketing pull of the top brands and often fly under the radar. This year their ZX models have begun to get more traction for both Tour players and amateurs.
I think the ZX7 are the most attractive irons produced by Srixon. It has a thinner topline and more compact shape that is noticeably designed to fit as a players’ iron. They do have a slightly higher toe than normal, but this shouldn’t put you off.
They have slightly strong lofts compared to other players’ irons and produce less spin. Similarly to the Honma TR20 V irons, golfers struggling with a lower trajectory may not fancy these irons. However with their new ‘Tour Cavity’ they offer good distance and decent forgiveness for off-centre shots. Progressive groove technology also helps to produce excellent distance control throughout the whole set.
These irons also come with the V.T. sole technology, as with all Srixon irons, which slightly aid those strikes that are a little behind the ball. The irons can also be mixed with the ZX5 range, which offer more power and forgiveness. A good option for longer irons and also players that want a bit more support with off-centre strikes.
5. Cobra King Forged Tec
Forgiveness: 90 | Distance: 100 | Look: 85 | Feel: 70
The iron for good players that want more distance
These are the first hollow body forged irons produced by Cobra. Lightweight to increase swing speed, but with tungsten toe weighting to increase distance and aid off-centre strikes.
The irons do come with the strongest lofts on this list (a 7-iron is 29.5 degrees). They will certainly suit golfers wanting to maximise their distance. The sacrifice is that these irons produce less spin and lack the same control as other forged iron options. A custom fit could definitely help golfers struggling with the low launch angle.
The Forged Tec are an attractive muscleback style design. Over the ball, I would say the split the category of players’ and players’ distance iron. They have a compact design with very little offset, but also a slightly larger topline than most of the players’ irons. Either way, they will certainly look good in your bag.
For golfers that love their technology, Cobra Connect by Arccos comes as standard within the grips of these irons. This allows you to keep track of your data and performance through the Arccos Caddie app. A feature that not everyone will use, but it certainly adds more value to an already reasonably priced set of irons.
6. Mizuno JPX921 Forged
Forgiveness: 90 | Distance: 85 | Look: 90 | Feel: 90
Ideal for golfers whose handicap is coming down
The ‘Forged’ model is the highlight of the Mizuno JPX921 range. These are the first forged irons with chromoly steel, which could potentially be seen more in the future based on these irons.
These are irons that will perfectly suit golfers within the 9 to 16 handicap range. However, I think golfers creeping into lower single-figure handicaps are still going to enjoy this model. They are ideal for golfers that want the feel of a players’ iron, but that don’t want to sacrifice the loss of distance and forgiveness you get with the Tour model.
It is a great all-arounder and offers the trademark soft feel and beautiful look expected with Mizuno irons. They are longer and more forgiving than the Tour version and sit in the players’ distance iron category. They combine a slightly smaller and thinner face of a player's iron, but with a little more cavity back support. The Tour will still be the preferred choice for some of the lowest handicappers, however these could still be enjoyed by even the best golfers.
Despite Mizuno’s usual caution for tweaking lofts, the JPX921 does have slightly stronger loft (1 degree) than the JPX919 model. However, this is still weaker than alternatives in the market so should not put too many golfers off and it does help them compete in distance.
7. Wilson Staff Model CB
Forgiveness: 80 | Distance: 75 | Look: 80 | Feel: 80
Solid players’ iron for a lower budget
Wilson has a long successful history of quality irons, but has dropped off most top golfers radar in the last 15 years. However, they enjoyed a resurgence with their popular V6 model.
The Model CB irons offer a traditional players’ iron look. They are compact with very little offset, but a slightly thicker topline than some irons on this list. They have fairly traditional lofts, which are weaker than most modern irons and makes them a bit shorter on distance than alternatives.
The noticeable appearance feature comes from the mirrored finish on the heel and toe. Whilst a refreshing change in look from the common matte on most modern irons, they could be prone to some sun glare.
A forged carbon steel face provides a satisfying sound on a well struck shot. Wilson’s new Tri-Brace stabiliser technology as well as 20g in the toe adds forgiveness and feel. There are definitely more forgiving alternatives though and they feel designed for lower handicappers.
8. TaylorMade P770
Forgiveness: 75 | Distance: 70 | Look: 100 | Feel: 90
Perfect for low handicappers searching for control over distance
The P770 model follows on from the P790 model. Designed to be more of a players’ style iron, compared to the distance players’ iron P790.
They have a forged hollow body construction as well as SpeedFoam technology to improve club head speed. As per the P790 model they include a Thru Slot Speed Pocket in the sole to improve forgiveness, especially for strikes low on the face.
The P770 irons offer an improved sound and feel at impact, which offer much more distance control and a higher launch angle. You do not get any ‘hot off the face’ shots recently associated with some TaylorMade models and get more spin control for approaches.
The flipside is a smaller face, slightly less forgiveness and shorter distances than the P790 model. These irons are definitely not designed for golfers with slower swing speeds that need support with distance. However, I can see lower handicappers and Tour Pros with no distance worries enjoying the feel and control these irons provide.
The irons have a blade like appearance, with a brushed steel minimalist appearance on the back for a very attractive look. They are definitely one of the nicest looking irons available.
9. Honma TR20 V
Forgiveness: 85 | Distance: 85 | Look: 85 | Feel: 80
For golfers that love a classic approach
Honma has benefited from ‘big name’ exposure on the PGA Tour recently. The Japanese brand has long been lauded for the feel and look of their forged irons though and moved into the popular market with the previous TW747 models. Honma offers a simplistic approach, with less technology marketing jargon but equally great results.
The most recent forged iron offering from Honma is the TR20, with three models, B, V and P. The TR20 B irons are a muscleback design, only really suited to the very top golfers. TR20 V and P are likely to be more popular among amateur golfers because of the added forgiveness.
The TR20 V is definitely a players’ iron, with a thinner topline and less offset than the P model. They have the hallmark soft feel associated with forged irons. You certainly feel the bad shots, but there is a good amount of forgiveness. << REWORD THIS
Golfers struggling with a low ball-flight are unlikely to appreciate the strong lofts and low-ish spin rates compared to other players’ irons on the market. However, they do still offer good shot control and for golfers looking to add a more penetrating ball flight these irons could suit you perfectly.
Taking a modern approach Honma encourages golfers to mix between the models to get a complete set to suit your game. This allows a good combo set, especially for players wanting the additional yardage and forgiveness from the P model.
Are forged irons only for low handicappers?
Forged irons typically have a thinner face with a smaller sweet spot than game-improvement irons. The weight is typically central to the club face, reducing forgiveness but allowing for a softer feel. This allows players to have more accuracy and control over spin to shape shots.
These features are more suited to lower handicap golfers, however forged irons are becoming more forgiving. As technology has advanced, manufacturers have used different techniques to offer more support for off-centre strikes. Hollow body construction and perimeter weighting are two examples of technology normally associated with game-improvement irons, that have been incorporated within traditional forged irons.
More than ever before mid-handicappers are now considering forged irons as an option to improve their game. Manufacturers have recognised this and are releasing more models to bridge the gap between game-improvement irons and forged options.
However, if you are a beginner or your main concern is advancing the ball in the air with a clean contact, then game-improvement will still have much more support and forgiveness.
What shafts should I get?
There are two common shafts to choose between, stainless steel or graphite.
Both shafts have positive attributes, but it is important to make the selection which suits you best. Having the wrong shafts can have a huge impact on your ball flight and accuracy.
Stainless steel is the choice for the majority of Tour Pros, lower handicappers and golfers with quicker swing speeds. They offer more consistency, with the ability to shape shots.
Graphite is chosen by a lot of Senior Tour Pros and are beneficial to golfers that have slower swing speeds. Graphite shafts are lighter, so offer more distance with good strikes and also better forgiveness for bad strikes.
It is best to get a custom fit from your local Pro to find the right shaft to suit your swing. To fully maximise your golf clubs, finding the perfect shaft makes a huge difference.
What different styles are there?
Depending on your playing standard and ball-striking ability there are different styles of forged irons available.
Muscleback ‘blades’ are thinner, less forgiving and usually offer less distance as well. They offer the ultimate control and shot-shaping for the purest ball strikers. However, even many Professionals will stay clear of these irons. Unless you are a very low handicapper around scratch and playing most days, these irons are unlikely to be your best option. Even then a lot of players would prefer the benefit of additional forgiveness and distance.
Players’ irons are the most common choice for Professionals and low handicap golfers. They are technically cavity back, because they are not ‘blades’. But most golfers will group these smallest of cavity backs together as players’ irons. You will find a lot of these golf clubs will have ‘Tour’ or ‘Pro’ type descriptions in their model names. These irons are best suited to lower handicap golfers that prioritise control and shot-shaping. They have small sweet spots and usually offer less distance and forgiveness than clubs with a bit more cavity.
Players’ distance irons are a popular choice amongst improving golfers and high single-figure handicap golfers. They have a little more cavity and a slightly larger face appearance. They are the more forgiving of the forged iron options. Not offering as much assistance as game-improving irons, but you will get the unique forged iron feel and they do still offer great distance and forgiveness for off-centre strikes.
Mixed sets are now becoming very popular amongst elite golfers. This is an iron set including a variety of the above styles and sometimes even game-improving as well. For example; pitching wedge to 6 iron could be players’ irons and then 5 to 3 irons could be players’ distance irons. A mixed set offers a great alternative for golfers that want additional forgiveness with their longer irons, but still want to keep feel and control with short/mid-irons. Most brands now offer per-iron costs, allowing you to select your style for the whole set.
Golfers looking to purchase a new set of forged irons are currently spoilt for choice. The market is currently overcrowded with so many viable options to suit every type and standard of golfer. Every major brand has released a set of forged irons within the last few years.
There is a certain amount of overlap between brands, specifically within each style category. However, they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. It is vital to know your own game to select irons, which help maximise your strengths and assist your weaknesses.
In general terms, players’ style forged irons will suit the lowest handicap golfers. Players’ distance irons will suit handicappers in the 8-16 handicap range. Handicappers 17 and upward that want to invest in forged irons should look for the models with the most forgiveness and cavity. Obviously this is not to say these categories must be adhered to, simply that it is usually a good starting point when selecting a style to suit your game.
My number one recommendation is that, if possible, get custom fit. Having a qualified Pro look help you and assess the stats produced using different irons will allow you to make an informed decision based on all the information. There is also no substitute for hitting balls on the golf course, so beforehand try playing a couple of holes with them.
Your irons should suit your golf swing and inspire you with confidence. But, in the end, which irons you choose will be decided by your own personal preference.